What “free speech” should really mean online

You hear a lot about “free speech” and the First Amendment in connection with online forums like Twitter and Facebook. But “free speech” is the wrong way to think about them.

The First Amendment applies strictly to government, not private companies. Even then it’s not absolute, there are still limits to what you can say. On the other hand, private entities like Twitter and Facebook are free to determine for themselves what you can and cannot say in their domains. That determination has proven to be difficult, especially for Twitter. To make it worse, they find themselves criticized equally for removing abusive posts and for not removing them.

In the end, as the article suggests, it’s up to the Twitters and Facebooks to establish guidelines that reflect their communities and do the least amount of harm to everyone. It won’t be “free speech” in absolute terms, but it will be “free enough speech”.

 

Burnout: Minds turned to ash

We may think that job-related burnout is a modern affliction, but it’s been a recognized condition since the ancient Greeks and is mentioned in the Old Testament. Still, there’s something about modern life that causes more of us to be affected by it.

A walk in the country or a week on the beach should, theoretically, provide a similar sense of relief. But such attempts at recuperation are too often foiled by the nagging sense of being, as one patient put it, “stalked” by the job. A tormenting dilemma arises: keep your phone in your pocket and be flooded by work-related emails and texts; or switch it off and be beset by unshakeable anxiety over missing vital business. Even those who succeed in losing the albatross of work often quickly fall prey to the virus they’ve spent the previous weeks fending off.

Burnout increases as work insinuates itself more and more into every corner of life – if a spare hour can be snatched to read a novel, walk the dog or eat with one’s family, it quickly becomes contaminated by stray thoughts of looming deadlines. Even during sleep, flickering images of spreadsheets and snatches of management speak invade the mind, while slumbering fingers hover over the duvet, tapping away at a phantom keyboard.

One reason it’s different now is our always-on connection to the Internet, social media and apps that measure our steps, calories and sleep. As the article says, “The burnt-out case of today belongs to a culture without an off switch.”

Inside Twitter’s 10-Year Failure To Stop Harassment

Twitter has had a problem with abuse and harassment virtually since it began. Women and minorities are the most frequent targets, often for no other reason than they have an account on the service. Twitter, despite being more than aware of the problem, has done practically nothing about it, even for the most high profile users.

But don’t worry, they just revamped their “Moments” feature that no one cares about or uses.

Wellsville and Salamanca

Last week I hopped on the Bumblebeemer and took a long ride to the Southwestern corner of NY State. One of the places I stopped was Wellsville where, as the name suggests, oil was discovered. Most if not all of those old wells have either gone dry or become to expensive to maintain. This old pump was visible from the road and was apparently part of a system of wells and pumps long since abandoned.

Driven by Tom Maszerowski on 500px.com

Bearing by Tom Maszerowski on 500px.com

Pump by Tom Maszerowski on 500px.com

Further down the road is Salamanca. It’s an odd place as the city is entirely on the Allegany Reservation of the Seneca nation. As a result, the Senecas own the land and homeowners lease the property. It’s been controversial and has scared a lot of people and businesses away. Salamanca was a major rail hub at one point but that has long since lost its importance. These are some of the remnants of its rail yard (along with a museum).

Towers by Tom Maszerowski on 500px.com

Falling Concrete by Tom Maszerowski on 500px.com

Bent by Tom Maszerowski on 500px.com

Google Maps shows that there was a large roundhouse and turntable in the yard at one time so I’m going back to check that out sometime.

Microsoft releases Checked C

The C programming language has been around since the 1970s and it’s been used to create a incredible amount of software. It’s guaranteed to be part of the software you’re using to view this regardless of what you’re using to view it with. But C has some serious drawbacks in that it’s incredibly easy to make serious mistakes that don’t seem obvious until the software is running (and possibly not all time).

But there are follow-on languages that build on C but add features that make some of these errors obvious. Microsoft has one called C# and it’s available for Windows developers to use as part of their Visual Studio developer environment. But lots of programmers, especially those working on open source, are still using regular old C. Recently, Microsoft Research developed Checked C which adds many of the features of C# into C without significantly changing how programmers work or requiring older code to be rewritten. They’ve released it as an open source project for use on Windows and Linux systems and welcome fixes and improvements.

In case you wonder why this is a big deal you need to know that much of the software running on the Internet is programmed in C and many of the security vulnerabilities that have been found and exploited arose from the kind of mistakes that C overlooks. Widespread use of something like Checked C could make a significant improvement in security for everyone.